Fired TX Chaplain Seeks Summary Judgment in 1A Suit

Austin Fire Department firetruck | Image by Austin Fire Dept/Facebook

An Austin Fire Department volunteer chaplain who was dismissed for sharing views on his personal blog has filed a motion in federal court asking for summary judgment in a lawsuit alleging First Amendment violations.

Dr. Andrew Fox was dismissed in 2021 by the Austin Fire Department (AFD) after he wrote on his blog about “the lunacy of men competing with women as women,” reported The Texan.

“Transgender ideology is blatantly hijacking the platform of athletic sport under the guise of inclusivism,” stated Fox in his blog post.

Coworkers of Fox allegedly complained about the post, according to Texas Scorecard. Fox was accused of “male chauvinism, racism, and transphobia,” according to The Texan.

Assistant Chief Rob Vires requested Fox write an apology letter to “the LGBT community at the Fire Department.” After noting that his “intention is to open healthy discussion on any topic in a dialectic manner so we can learn more about each other through civil discourse — written or spoken,” Fox wrote, “For those who are offended, I apologize if my blogs make you feel offended,” reported The Texan.

Despite the apology letter, Fox was dismissed eight days later, on December 9, 2021. Chief Joel Baker sent a formal letter explaining why Fox was being dismissed, which was “to ensure that all of the Department’s volunteer chaplains provide a comforting and welcoming presence and service for any and all firefighters and Department employees,” reported The Texan.

The following August, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Fox. The lawsuit alleged that the City of Austin and Baker had “acted unjustly and unconstitutionally” by violating Fox’s rights “to hold and profess different views” and for retaliating against him for exercising his rights to free speech and freedom of religion. The lawsuit sought Fox’s reinstatement along with compensatory damages. 

Just over a week ago, the organization filed a motion for summary judgment in the case, arguing that there are no disputes as to the facts of the case — meaning that there is no need for a trial — and asking a judge to decide in Fox’s favor, as the law is on his side.

In a news release, ADF senior counsel Hal Frampton said, “Everyone should be able to speak freely without fear of the government punishing you just for expressing a view they disagree with. … No matter your personal view on whether men should be allowed to compete on women’s sports teams, it should deeply concern every American that the government can fire someone who expresses that widely held view.”

ADF’s brief in support of the motion argues, “Not every chaplain will be the right fit for every firefighter. That’s why public safety departments like AFD hire a variety of chaplains, therapists, and other wellness options. But neither the Constitution nor Texas law allow the government to single out, punish, and sit in judgment over certain religious views.”

CBN News obtained a statement from AFD regarding the lawsuit:

“The Austin Fire Department appreciates Dr. Fox’s service as a volunteer chaplain. However, we do not expound on matters involving personnel and/or those affiliated with our department in an official capacity.”

Neither of the defendants has commented on the filing of the motion.

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